AccelerateHer plans immersive startup weekends at Haas

Left to right: Christine Kim, Tanya Krishan, Julia Liu, Rajavi Mishra, Labanya Mukhopadhyay, Alissa Hsueh & Jiyoo Jeong.
Left to right: AccelerateHer board members: Christine Kim, Tanya Krishan, Julia Liu, Rajavi Mishra, Labanya Mukhopadhyay, Alissa Hsueh & Jiyoo Jeong

As a kid, Saumya Goyal, BS 21, was already an aspiring entrepreneur, sketching drawings of mechanical wings that she planned to build for flying.

Saumya Goyal
Saumya Goya, BS 21, is chief advisor to AccelerateHer.

Now a Haas junior, Goyal is still enthusiastic about making things, as chief advisor to AccelerateHer at UC Berkeley, a campus club that promotes entrepreneurship for women and will be hosting the first of two new AccelerateHer Startup Weekends next month. Goyal will be among the AccelerateHer team welcoming UC Berkeley students who are ready to dive deep into new startup ideas on Nov. 9-10 and 16-17.  Students can apply here.

“This club has been through a lot of growth and now we’re focused on these weekends,” said Goyal, who interned this past summer at Palo Alto-based startup TripActions and is working on her own social startup that will help women in India’s developing villages.

Focus on collaboration

The weekends are funded through a three-year grant from Blackstone LaunchPad, a program created by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and the Techstars network to equip students with more tools and resources for exploring entrepreneurship. (Earlier this month, Blackstone announced a $5 million expansion of  the LaunchPad program, allotting $500,000 to each University of California campus).

Rajavi Mishra, president of AccelerateHer
Rajavi Mishra, president of AccelerateHer

Rajavi Mishra, president of AccelerateHer, said the weekends will provide an opportunity for more team collaboration, something that she has sometimes found challenging at hackathons, where females were underrepresented and the focus was on coding.

“We wanted to host this because at a lot of the hackathons you have to know how to code and a lot of my friends don’t know how to code, so they won’t apply,” said Mishra, a computer science major who is applying to Haas. “This is a platform for both people who know how to code and have other skills so that they can collaborate and build a product over the weekend.”

Dipping a toe in the water

The weekends also provide an immersive opportunity to students who don’t have time to commit to a semester’s long course in entrepreneurship or a longer startup boot camp.

Over each weekend, the teams will explore their ideas, discover customers, build prototypes, and validate the business opportunity. The events, to be held in both Chou Hall and Cheit Hall, culminate with teams pitching their startups.

All teams will have at least three and a maximum of five members, and two of the team members must identify as female. Participants need only arrive with an idea, said Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program. Anyone who arrives without a team will be matched with other students, she said. The events offer 10 interactive startup workshops, mentorship from top startup founders, networking mixers, and startup toolkits.

Shrader said the weekends are a way to bring more women into entrepreneurship, particularly those who shy away from hackathons and coding.

“This is a way for them to dip their toe in the water,” she said. “If we want more female founders this is how we’ve got to do it.”

Mishra, who grew up in Delhi, India, a fourth-generation entrepreneur, started her startup journey in grade school, building websites for friends and small businesses.

By ninth grade, she created a social enterprise called Zariya, that developed workshops and programs aimed at helping abused children in New Delhi. But she said that there wasn’t a lot of support for startups in her area. “That’s why I wanted to come to Berkeley and when I came here I realized the amount of support we have,” she said. “I cannot be more thankful.”

Mishra said the group has received great enthusiasm from students and is accepting more applications. The deadline to apply is Thursday, Oct. 31.